I first encountered Saki as a teenager, and something about his particular brand of wit appealed to me. Perhaps it was the chaos wrought on polite society by a succession of untameable animals. Perhaps it was the sharp one-liners (“the cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go, she went”, the most obvious example). Perhaps it was the celebration of imaginative lying.
Vera is 15, the niece of Mrs Sappleton, and a consummately imaginative liar. Framton Nuttel is her mark – a visitor in search of a rest cure. She sets him up and dispatches him with brutal and delicious efficiency. “Romance at short notice was her speciality”.
The window of the title, Vera tells the nervy Nuttel, is open because the men of the house were consumed by a bog on a snipe-shooting expedition three years earlier, and her aunt (Saki’s world, like Wodehouse’s, is a hotbed of aunts) still lives under the delusion that they will be returning any minute. Or not, as the case may be.
The birds, it has to be admitted, are at best incidental here, but I’m grateful for their inclusion, as it enables me to shoehorn the story into this list. They are snipe, a bird I like to watch and some people like to shoot. Snipe, with their unpredictable flight path, have always been considered particularly challenging to shoot – in which case wouldn’t it probably be best just… not to?
First published in Beasts and Super-Beasts, 1914. Collected many times